(June 10, 2018)—DailyKos covered our lawsuit out of Charlottesville, Sines v. Kessler:
One of the biggest cases of the year isn’t before the Supreme Court; it doesn’t involve an adult film star, corrupt operatives, Russia, or the president. It pits celebrities of a different type against one another: superstar litigators Karen Dunn and Roberta Kaplan—who argued the landmark gay rights case United States v. Windsor—are taking on ignominious white supremacist Richard Spencer and 24 of his ilk who planned, executed, and celebrated the Charlottesville riots together.
Funded by Integrity First for America, a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to defending democratic principles, the suit charges the defendants with conspiracy to deprive plaintiffs of their civil rights and failing to stop the anti-civil rights conspiracy under federal law.
The two federal provisions under which Kaplan is bringing suit were Congress’s attempt at codifying the 13th Amendment. That’s a little unusual: The 13th Amendment was passed to end slavery and interpreted by the courts to extend to “the badges of slavery.” Today, it’s rarely invoked.
When I spoke to Kaplan in February, a month-and-a-half after the amended complaint was filed, I asked her about her choice of charges. She pointed out that the deprivation of rights in Charlottesville did center on race. Echoing my gut reaction, she commented, “No one would think we’d be litigating the 13th Amendment anymore in 2018.”
Of the case's potential impact, DailyKos writes:
If Kaplan and Dunn win the case altogether, their victory will do more than set back this particular iteration of the far-right. They’re seeking a declaration from the court that the defendants’ actions deprived the plaintiffs of their civil rights, an order instructing the defendants not to violate rights again, and damages.
The first form of relief—a declaratory judgment—would be a massive coup: It’d mean a federal court specifically stating that what the Charlottesville organizers did was illegal, setting precedent that while not binding would be influential and potentially even deterring future such actions.
The case is a critical test of private citizens’ ability to step in for the Justice Department to enforce civil rights laws the Trump administration won’t. It’s also a rare breed of civil conspiracy case, most closely resembling a suit brought against anti-abortion activists who “doxxed” physicians who provided abortions, leading to multiple murders. If successful, it sets a precedent for bringing similar cases against individuals and groups who conspire online in a similar manner.
I also asked Kaplan about the extent to which the defendants appear interested in playing the case out in public. “They’re clearly trying to do that,” she said. “A lot of the stuff about me is Jew, Jew, Jew, Jew, Jew, lesbian, Jew.” They’re rightfully concerned, I gather, that the Charlottesville jury they’ll face isn’t too likely to be unsympathetic. But Kaplan’s unworried.
“I’m one of these naïve idealists that believes that at least in a courtroom facts really matter,” Kaplan says. “There’s no such thing as fake facts in a courtroom. Evidence has to be admissible and subject to the rules.”